Turned Over To Satan To Destroy Flesh: How? Why?

Here’s today’s question: Why and how did Paul give people over to Satan? That’s it. That’s the question why and how did Paul give people over to Satan? I have to make an assumption here, because that’s as far as the question goes, so let me expand on this a little. I’m going to assume the question has to do with first Timothy 1:20, and we’ll read that in a moment. And also Paul’s charge to the Corinthians to turn a man over to Satan and 1 Corinthians 5.

Reading 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:20

Let’s read the two passages. So first, let’s go to first Timothy Chapter one. I’ll start at verse 18, but you should really back up because verse 18 refers to what came before it. You can read that on your own. Paul tells Timothy this, though, starting in verse 18. He says this charge, this charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith in a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan , that they may learn not to blaspheme. Then let’s go to First Corinthians Chapter five, and I start at verse one. It is actually reported that there were sexual immorality among you. And of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant, aren’t you? Not rather to mourn. Let him. Who has done this? Be removed from among you. For those absent and body, I am present in spirit and as if present. I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. In 1 Timothy 1 Paul says he has already handed over those two men to Satan. It’s in the past tense. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is rebuking the Corinthians because they have yet to turn the man over to Satan. And he charges them with carrying that out, turning the man over to Satan. Another unsaid element in the question we received is likely this: what does Paul mean by the destruction of the flesh there in 1 Corinthians 5? Let’s try and answer the questions.

Is The Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20 The Same as in 2 Timothy 1:4?

One thing someone might bring up is the question of whether Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20 is the same man as Alexander the Coppersmith and 2 Timothy for 1:4. A man who Paul says did him great harm. Are they the same man? It sure is possible, but we don’t know for sure, do we? No, we don’t. Therefore, to state dogmatically that it is or isn’t, the same man would be out of line, as far as I’m concerned. And whether he is or isn’t doesn’t affect the answer to the question one way or another. First, Timothy 1 also doesn’t give us much detail about what that looked like when Paul turned those two men over to Satan. We know Paul sure had some intent behind it, that they learn to not blaspheme. But as far as what that turning over to Satan looked like, in all practicality, we don’t have much help from that passage. But we do have such help in 1 Corinthians 5. So that’s where we’ll spend our time as we answer the question.

Considerations From 1 Corinthians 5

In 1 Corinthians 5 you have a man who is committing a sin on an ongoing basis that Paul says even the pagans don’t tolerate. The man is committing incest with his stepmother, his father’s wife, Paul, being an Old Testament scholar, new Deuteronomy 22:30 spoke against that. A man shall not take his father’s wife so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness. As you continue reading through First Corinthians 5, you see the Paul clearly believes this to be in the category of sexual immorality verses 9, 10 and 11. And if a man is doing such things and bears, the name of brother Paul says the Corinthians are to purge that evil, not just the sin, but the man going again to numerous passages in the scripture when he says, purge the evil person from among you, purging the evil, purging what Paul calls leaven from the church. But why? Why turn the man over to Satan? Why destroy his flesh? Let’s think about what the man is doing here. He’s committing sin, in this case, sexual immorality. First Corinthians 5 is not just about sexual immorality, but it’s Paul’s case study here.

What Does Turning Over to Satan look Like?

Let’s look at these things then, number one. What does the turning over to Satan look like and to what’s the purpose of it? The destruction of the flesh. This passage has Hebrew scripture all over it, the background of Deuteronomy 22:30. The numerous passages in Deuteronomy about purging evil. But those passages in Deuteronomy talk about purging the evil person by killing him. Paul uses the purging concept here, but he doesn’t apply the death sentence as the manner of purging. He tells the Corinthians to remove the man from among them, verse two. Paul wants an absolute separation between that which he calls evil. This man remember not just what the man was doing. He wants this separation between this man and the rest of the church. Remove him and also remove what was a sign of fellowship in those days eating with someone. But this isn’t just about physical separation, sort of like getting sent to detention at school. And they make us sit in a room by yourself for two hours. When Paul brings Satan into the question, now, you’re getting into the realm of the spiritual. Paul wants this man put out not just in a merely physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense. I think about what Paul says a couple of chapters later in Chapter seven when he says that if you have a married couple and one gets saved, the unbelieving spouse and any children are made holy by the mere presence of that Christian in the home. Having a Christian in that home means the unbelieving spouse and the children are in the midst of one who is filled with the spirit, who is born again. And that influence in what they do and how they live and what they say and read and think is a good thing for those unbelievers. Paul does this. He applies the flip side of that in Chapter five. Paul wants the man who is doing the sinning removed from all that is good and spiritual and put into the realm of all that is evil, put out into the world, which is dominated by the God of this world, Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). Is this an easy thing for a church to do? No, it isn’t. We had one man tell us as we were putting him out that he recognized the spiritual wilderness into which he was going, and he was scared and he had every right to be scared. It should be scary out there living in the realm of the devil. You also get the sense that the guy, as he was to be purged out of the church in Corinth, just wouldn’t hop a horse over to Ephesus or Colossi and start fellowshipping with one of those churches . The man was to be put out with the devil in a form of the wilderness, just like Jesus was in Matthew 4. Is that harsh? The world says yes, and it is harsh. Many of those who profess to know Christ say yes, it’s harsh and it’s too harsh. But the Holy Spirit has told us twice in his word about examples written for our instruction. If we don’t do what these passages tell us, we’re not doing the church a favor. We’re not doing the men in these passages a favor. But even more so, we’re telling the Holy Spirit he gave counsel we don’t need to obey and we really don’t want to do that.

What Is The Purpose of the Destruction Of the Flesh?

Now we go to the second thing, the purpose and what is meant by the destruction of the flesh. Paul and even more so, Christ is very concerned about the purity of God’s people individually and also corporately as his body, the church. These three men in these passages, a man committing incest and two blasphemers, those men look like they’re walking in the light? Do they look like people who have been delivered from the domain of darkness, called out of the darkness and into the marvelous light? Do these men look like men who are slaves of righteousness? That Old Testament imagery in First Corinthians, 5 of the lump and the leaven, the Corinthians, would have gotten that one small bit of leaven was enough to affect an entire lump of dough. It multiplies, it grows. It affects the entirety of the lump. And you might say in response to this that we’re not lumps of dough. You’re right. But metaphors matter and metaphors are used because they convey concepts in ways that we can understand that word picture of the lump of dough sitting there and slowly expanding as the leaven infiltrates every part of it. So it is with sin in the church if the sin is unchecked. Do you really want to be called a worker of lawlessness by Jesus on the last day, like the men in Matthew 7? I don’t think so. That is the purpose here, not to punish a man, but to see that he is saved in the day of the Lord. But how is turning him over to Satan going to ensure his salvation on the last day? Scripture says by destroying his flesh. I don’t believe it’s Paul’s intent that the man being put out is to result in him dying physically like the putting out of Deuteronomy. But even though physical death isn’t in mind here, there is a death of sorts in mind here, and it’s the death of the man’s flesh. Paul uses that word flesh. Sarx’s in the original in more ways than one. The sense in which Paul uses sarx’s here, flesh, is that of the sinful desires, sinful desires that manifest themselves as sinful actions such as what the man at 1 Corinthians 5 was doing. The man’s flesh was fueling his sin. Paul wants the man’s flesh destroyed. But Paul wants the man’s spirit to be saved. You can go read the first 13 verses of Romans 8 for more on Paul’s thoughts concerning the contrast between the mind that is set on the flesh, the desires of this world that are wicked as against the mind set on the Holy Spirit. I know that’s not an exact comparison to our passage in 1 Corinthians 5, but it is helpful. Paul wants the man’s flesh destroyed. Why? Isn’t the man’s flesh that which is causing him to do what he’s doing here in 1Corinthians 5? In Galatians 5, Paul writes about the desires of the flesh, and he says those are against the Holy Spirit. What’s one of those works of the flesh? Galatians 5:19 says sexual immorality. What’s the last element of the fruit of the spirit? A few sentences later: self-control. Works of the flesh or spirit driven self-control, which is it? The man was indulging the works of the flesh and not exhibiting the fruit of the spirit. Recall the man says he bears the name of brother within the Corinthian church. Paul wants the man’s flesh that within him, which is driving him to commit this sin to be destroyed. Paul wants it killed. And it may come at great personal cost to the man.

Does Paul rule out physical pain as part of being turned over to Satan? No. Ask Job, even though Job wasn’t turned over to Satan like this man was. But Satan had his way with Job’s health, didn’t he? Maybe physical pain and suffering would be the means by which this man’s flesh would be destroyed. We can’t rule that out. The spirit of God who breathed out these words isn’t concerned with preserving the man’s pride or his self-esteem, or whether Paul and the Corinthians would be labeled unloving by the rest of Corinth. The concern here is the state of the man’s spirit on the day of the Lord and the purity of the people of God. In the meantime, as a corporate body of Christ, if his flesh must be destroyed in order for that to occur. Yes. Yes. Amen.

[Table of Contents]
0:00 – Why and how did Paul give people over to Satan?
3:28 – Considerations from 1 Corinthians 5.
4:43 – What does the turning over to Satan look like?
7:58 – What is the purpose?
9:30 – How is turning him over to Satan going to ensure his salvation on the last day?